China’s Electric Jungle festival co-founder, Boyi Zhou, talks dance music culture, obstacles, and the wild time yet to come [Q&A]
For the past few years, Boyi Zhou and his Jungle Events team have been toiling away, trying to carve out a vivacious, unfettered space in the Chinese event circuit for electronic dance music. While Zhou, the event brand’s marketing manager, and his team have tried to emulate a lot of the underground dance music culture they were indoctrinated into while studying abroad in LA, there is much about their nook of the EDM continuum that is inherently Chinese.
This month (Dec 8-9), Zhou and the Jungle Events team will return with another installment of what is now the largest dance music festival in all of China, Electric Jungle, projected to attract over 60,000 attendees. The team is combining its Goliath headliners, Skrillex and Martin Garrix, with a sundry of international, nuanced talent, like REZZ, Drezo, TroyBoi, and Illenium–just to name a few.
Like many electronic fests in the US, the Foshan Chuanlord Tourism & Leisure EXPO resort-residing Electric Jungle will be broken off into meticulously curated stages, including a Berlin-nightclub-themed techno stage, a bass stage, which will receive a one-day Monstercat makeover, and of course, a main stage. Zhou says, that while the nature of the festival may be unorthodox, especially within its respective culture, organizers want to preserve authentic Chinese tradition while on their home turf, wielding ancient Chinese monsters as a motif throughout festival grounds.
Also quite like in the US, festival organizers must fiercely delegate with local authorities to gain the privileges necessary for throwing an event of this scale–though, for Zhou and co., this is a much weightier burden. Standing on the precipice of, what is for the Chinese, still such an underground culture, the local government still doesn’t fully fathom Jungle Events and their counterparts’ intentions; though, Zhou says, that’s beginning to change. Zhou sat down with Dancing Astronaut to talk about not only how he’s mediating these profound obstacles, but also his initial infatuation with the LA “rave” scene, launching one of the first Chinese-language dance music blogs, and his observations of the Chinese electronic festival circuit at large.
Tickets to Electric Jungle as well as additional festival info can be found here.
How did the idea for the festival come about?
I was attending college in the US living in LA for six years and I went to a lot of raves. So I started a blog, Jungle EDM, one of the first all-Chinese electronic music blogs. Soon I had over 10,000 followers. Back then there were no blogs about electronic dance music in China. And there were no Chinese materials for translation. So I was the first one to translate all of the English dance music materials to Chinese. When I graduated, I came back to China and started my own festivals.
Can you compare the underground dance music scene you were indoctrinated into in LA to that of China?
I wouldn’t say it’s the same at all, but it’s growing really fast. In America basically, dance culture is the pop culture. But in China it’s a sub-genre or subculture of all other music genres.
Who are some of the biggest influencers in growing China’s dance music scene?
I would say the newer festivals, and the nightclubs. The nightclubs are doing really well. They’re hosting a lot of foreign artists bringing the culture to China.
Tell me about your Jungle team?
So the original founders are all from California. We all went to the same school. We met there. We all went to the community college first in Santa Monica and we transferred to different schools, but when we all came back to China, we decided to make the festival.
What do you predict your greatest challenge to be in executing a successful Electric Jungle this year?
Probably getting certain permits. It’s really strict in China. You can not go ’til after 10 pm, the curfew time. And the production is limited. You can not use certain effects like fireworks, or any variation of fire. Also, the audience capacity limits are very strict.
How are you guys working to mediate those issues?
Well, when we first came here to do this in China, the government didn’t really understand us. It’s getting better now. We are taking special precautions and working with the government to try to clear up the discord. They are trying to work with us and are working on giving us a little more room, so that we can ensure the production and safety are up to our standards.
Can you tell me about what your intentions were with lineup curation?
A lot of them fit the marketing needs. We selected a lot of the artists from the data analysis, from the stream players. In addition to them and the artists the founders selected for personal preference, there is also a lot of local talent. We are trying very hard to promote them. Those artists have a great advantage with the local demographic because of the language. A lot of the local artists are using Chinese language to make their songs, and they have their own fans.
Can you tell me about the theme and location of the festival?
It’s right next to Guangzhou. It’s the center of the Guangdong area: just one province in China. The benefits would be that it’s not the biggest city, so the restrictions are less. It’s close to the two biggest cities in China. Transportation and hospitality are a disadvantage, less hotels and trains, etc. It’s a small city to us, but would be relatively big in the US. I would say it’s something like Seattle. The festival will be held at a resort, complete with a theme park, mini zoo, and a hotel with a restaurant. We’re doing the festival in the parking, given its considerable size.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.